Cuba In Search of Lost Time

Díaz-Canel during his first speech as president of Cuba. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Malumud, Madrid, 23 April 2018 — The transfer of power at the highest level gave rise to a lively debate about the nature and depth of change in Cuba. The predominant Lampedusian* line insists that despite the rise of Miguel Díaz-Canel and the stepping aside by Raúl Castro, little or nothing has changed. A more optimistic version believes that this may be the beginning of relevant transformations. However, along with the magnitude of the share of power effectively ceded by Castro, lies the legitimacy and survival of the revolutionary experience.

The feeling that time has been systematically wasted to end up getting nowhere is an essential element of the daily reflection of many Cubans. The poet Rafael Alcides, still self-exiled, wrote in 1970: “The past and the future have already passed. / Everything we had we lost / and it was more of what we could have.” The troubadour Ray Fernández also insists that in the current context there is no future and he sings in El Bucanero: “Forget the treasure / because we lost the map.” So important is time in Cuba that from the beginning of the official discourse everything positive begins with the Revolution, and before that the island was only a brothel marked by vice, backwardness and exploitation. continue reading

That is why many people inside and outside of Cuba wonder if the fact that a Castro is not leading the government, or that the new president is not a military man and was born after the Revolution, will make a difference. Could Diaz-Canel make up for lost time and lead his people to the Promised Land? Attending to their protests will be difficult, especially if he thinks of political reforms oriented to democratizing the regime.

The new president has recognized the hegemony of the Revolution in line with Article 5 of the Constitution, which establishes the supremacy of the Communist Party, “the highest leading force of society and the State.” He has also emphasized the leadership of Raul Castro in the next stage, who will continue to spearhead “the decisions for the present and the future of the nation.”

The economic situation and the well-being of Cubans will be an essential question in this new stage. In regard to these issues, Diaz-Canel will put into play a good part of his prestige and authority. And here, as on another open front, nothing will be easy, especially since the collapse of aid from Venezuela. The demonstrations in Nicaragua, violently repressed by the Ortego-Murilla couple, are strong proof of this.

The principal alibi of the Cuban government, reinforced by the presence of Trump, is once again the United States. The anti-imperialist rhetoric and the effects of the ‘blockade’ will again justify the lack of reforms or their paralysis. But the only ones responsible for the political policies put at the service of their society are Cuba’s rulers. They must decide and execute even if the price paid is painful and until now the fear of a social reaction has been more a brake than a stimulus. Can Diaz-Canel advance where Raúl Castro did not?

Translator’s note: “In political science terminology, ‘gatopardism’ or ‘lampedusian’ are often used to refer to seemingly revolutionary policies and institutional changes that in practice only superficially alter power structures whilst retaining the primary elements that prompted transformation in the first place.”[Rubén Guzmán-Sánchez and Alejandro Espriú-Guerra] The term is a reference to Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and his novel The Leopard (“Il Gattopardo” in Italian).

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Note from the Editor: this analysis has been previously published in El Heraldo de México. We reproduce it with the authorization of the author.

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Donald Trump: A Peronist in the White House? / 14ymedio, Carlos Malamud

Donald J. Trump, delivers his speech after swearing-in as the 45th president of the United States. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Malamud, Madrid, 23 January 2017 — Guillermo Moreno, former Secretary of Domestic Trade under both presidents Kirchner in Argentina, and responsible for the manipulation of Argentinean official statistics during the so-called “won decade,” said after the inaugural address of Donald Trump that the new president “is a Peronist.” Without the slightest blush and with no nuance Moreno justified his favorable opinion of the new occupant of the White House for his defense of national industry and the slogan “America first.” Hence his optimism: “When we return to power, we will not have the world against us.”

When analyzing Friday’s speech on Capitol Hill, Ines Capdevilla, in a more sophisticated way, linked Trump’s Adamism – starting from scratch with a clean slate – with the best traditions of certain Latin American presidents predestined to re-found their countries. A circular phenomenon that appears to have no end. continue reading

Nothing and no one should stand between him and the embrace of his people, the great subject of the national transformation that he himself will lead

In his inaugural speech Trump turned his back on the past of the United States. It was not a lack of memory or historical ignorance, but a pure reconfiguration of reality in his own image and likeness.

Almost nothing from the past is useful, none of his predecessors did anything salvageable and the explicit mention of some author to reinforce his ideas could sound like elitism, a caste. Nothing and no one should stand between him and the embrace of his people, the great subject of the national transformation that he himself will lead.

The only thing missing for Trump to situate himself as the height of the best exemplar of the hemisphere was to promise a new constitution starting with a constitutional assembly. In this way his imprint on the national history would be indelible, but it seems that Trump knows something about his limits and this is precisely one of them.

Much has been said about his populist and nationalist tone. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize the Peronist component mentioned by Moreno. Beyond the outdated protectionism he wants to impose on the United States he has some other signs like the direct relation between the leader and the masses, bypassing the troublesome intermediaries of the establishment and the political parties.

In his speech Trump said, “What really matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Even the intermediation of his own party, the Republican, could distort his messianic message. For that Twitter comes as a perfect fit, to keep open privileged communication channels that even now he can access without controls of any kind.

Many Latin American politicians are enriched in the exercise of their functions. It does not seem to be the case with Trump, who comes to the presidency already rich. However, the lack of clear boundaries between the management of public affairs and his private businesses both inside and outside the United States could generate significant conflicts of interest and a new point of convergence across the continent. Not only that, nepotism, expressed in the increasingly starring role of some of his direct family members in the management of the government, is another matter to keep in mind.

The values ​​that Vladimir Putin claims to defend are the same as those claimed by European xenophobic parties

European xenophobic populisms have expressed their desire to incorporate the new president and the values ​​expressed by him to his field of play. We have already seen Nigel Farage make the pilgrimage to Trump Tower and also the zealous demonstrations of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders at the meeting that the far-right continent just held in Koblenz. While promising a “patriotic spring,” Wilders said, “Yesterday, a new America, today, Koblenz, and tomorrow, a new Europe.”

The rejection of liberal democracy and the free market, complemented by a visceral hatred for everything that Barack Obama might represent, starting with the defense of liberties and human rights, is not only a response to the strategic interest of turning Russia into a great power. The values ​​that Vladimir Putin claims to defend are the same as those claimed by European xenophobic parties, although the political support and economic aid that some receive from Moscow facilitates the convergence. But these are not exclusive phenomena of old Europe, since in Latin America it is possible to observe similar opinions, although in a self-referential way and these tend to be located at the other end of the political spectrum.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro undertook an undisguised defense of the new leader: “I do not join the world’s campaigns of hatred against Donald Trump… I ask myself, about what, because we know a lot about dirty wars.” These statements are the result of comparing the new president to the “nefarious” Obama, Venezuela’s biggest enemy, the most interventionist and interfering in Latin America and the direct promoter of three coups: Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil. Maduro argued that under no circumstances could Trump be any worse than Obama.

The Cuban government tried to stay true to its style and Josefina Vidal said that under no circumstances would they accept pressure from Trump and that “aggression does not work with Cuba”

Evo Morales, through Twitter, also showed relative optimism about Trump, his isolationist policy and the possibility of reestablishing normal bilateral relations, with the exchange of ambassadors. In a second message he went further: “Hopefully, with the new president of the United States, there will be an end to the interventions and military bases in the world to guarantee peace with social justice.”

For its part, the Cuban government tried to stay true to its style and Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry Director for the United States said that under no circumstances would they accept pressure from Trump and that “aggression does not work with Cuba.” Despite the forcefulness of these statements, Raul Castro has maintained a significant silence on the subject. Some malicious person might think that he has done it so as not to counter Putin, but that is pure speculation.

Peronism, like the recent Latin American populisms, has tended to polarize its societies. Nationalism was used to mobilize the faithful in defense of the project, to the point that whoever was not with Peron or with Chavez was a traitor to the country. It seems that Trump has decided to follow the same path, a path which, as the recent experience of Latin America has shown, only leads to discouragement, frustration and the impoverishment of the society as a whole.

Nightmare in Mexico / 14ymedio, Carlos Malamud

The protests continue in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero. (Francisco Cañedo/ SinEmbargo)
The protests continue in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero. (Francisco Cañedo/ SinEmbargo)

14ymedio, Carlos Malamud, October 20, 2014 — The regrettable events of Iguala and the disappearance (probably slaughter and disposal) of 43 student teachers (school teachers) again have Mexico facing its greatest scourge of the 21st Century: violence. The triumph of PRI in the elections of 2012, Enrique Pena Nieto’s ascent to power and his reformist program seemed to have redirected the country on a different course than the six-year term of Felipe Calderon (2006-12) and his war against drug trafficking.

Suddenly the dam has burst, and Mexicans have been newly submerged in a black nightmare. Everything is again in question, like governability, the burden of drug trafficking, corruption and civic coexistence. Pena Nieto does well to worry because in this wager an important part of his government and of the memory that he leaves future generations is at play. The worry should reach the whole range of national politics and all levels of government, beginning with the federal, but also the municipal and state.

It is not an easy or a simple problem as proven by the recent history of Colombia, where the mixture of political violence and narco-trafficking aggravated the situation. But in Mexico things are no simpler. The proximity of the United States implies not only a vast market for drugs but also a relatively simple path for arms procurement. Political violence is quite residual and absolutely comparable to the Colombian, and at the moment stable ties have not been established with the cartels.

Its current fragmentation complicates even more the fight by state forces. The fierce fight that the gangs maintain to impose their territorial control increases the violence, the number of victims and the sense of danger that they transmit. In order to achieve their objectives, not limited to narcotics trafficking, they try to tie themselves increasingly to local power, corrupting it to the roots where they can. continue reading

The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca and the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, both belong to the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party)

Their work is facilitated in those states, like Guerrero, where inaction or a certain complicity by governors aids the criminal objectives or does nothing to eradicate the cancer of corruption and the ties between the drug traffickers and the local police. This is only the beginning. The weakness of some institutions such as the justice or incarceration systems favors greater territorial implantation of organized crime.

The case of Iguala affects all Mexican political classes and the main national parties, beginning with the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party) which both the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca — who has skipped town with his wife — and the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, belong to. It is necessary to involve the three major national forces (PRI, PRD and PAN) in order to establish the basis for a deep civic regeneration. Some think that by not taking significant steps in this sense there would be unpredictable consequences. At the moment conditions for a widespread explosion in calls for greater security are not seen, in spite of there being a very extensive social demand, especially where the scourge of crime and narco-trafficking is greatest.

Until now Pena Nieto has not been greatly affected by the events. After a certain initial delay in taking a more pro-active posture to resolve the case, he has moved with a certain ability. The dispatch of the Gendarmeria – a division of the national police – and the capture of Sidornio Casarrubias, chief of “United Warriors,” presumed responsible in complicity with the municipal authorities and police for the kidnapping of the teachers, are points to his credit.

The Mexican criminal justice system must be reformed. Its labyrinthine intricacies are the best guarantees of impunity

But a good part of Pena Nieto’s future will depend on the path that he follows going forward, especially when the teachers’ cadavers appear. This is a golden opportunity to promote a deep reform of institutions tied to security and the fight against drug trafficking. In spite of dealing with a complex and slow process, it is urgent to finish the commissioning of the Gendarmeria and the purging of many police agencies. At the same time, the Mexican criminal justice system must be reformed. Its labyrinthine intricacies are the best guarantees of impunity for criminals, especially those who can pay good lawyers.

The work is not easy. There are many who profit from the status quo or try to take advantage of the difficulties of the system, as much among the accomplices of the drug trafficker as on the extreme left. But the moment demands conclusive answers. A common expression among youth close to the drug traffickers says: “Better to live five years as a king than 50 years as an ox.” Five years is the life expectancy for the henchmen close to the cartels. The Salvadoran and Honduran gangs are too close to forget their example. If this spreads, Mexico’s future will not be quite as promising as it appears today.

Editor’s note: This analysis has been previously published on the site infolatam. We reproduce it with the author’s permission.

*Carlos Malamud is a researcher for the Elcano Institute of International Studies and Strategies.